During opening statements at the trial of a former church custodian who is accused of killing a Chatham, New Jersey priest, his northern new jersey crimnal defense attorney said that the defendant was acting as any "reasonable person" would have when provoked.
The defendant, Jose Feliciano, had criminal past. And the victim, the parish priest, knew about it. The priest kept the pair's secret, but made Felciano pay "a price" for his silence. This price, said Feliciano's attorney, a Public Defender, caused Feliciano, as it would any reasonable person, fly into a homicidal rage. The attorney has yet to spell out exactly what that "price" consisted of, but is asking the jury to find his client guilty of manslaughter, instead of murder.
The State argued conversely, that Feliciano stabbed Hinds after the priest fired him for doing a poor job and for avoiding a criminal background check. Further, the State told jurors that the physical evidence in the case will show that the killing was "calculated homicide."
Feliciano gave a videotaped confession wherein he admitted to killing HInds because the priest threatened to end their four-year sexual affair.
The defense attorney told the jury that Felciano was charged in 1988 with an unspecified crime involving a juvenile. He also has a pending charge of indecent exposure to a 7 year old girl.
Felciano was hired in 1991 and the church was conducting criminal background checks that year. His fingerprint card was filled, but never sent to the State Police. In 2009 the Diocese of Patterson conducted an audit to make sure that all church personnel that had contact with children had been fingerprinted and undergone criminal background checks. Hinds was later told that Felciano hadn't been fingerprinted; Hinds said he would see to it. Later in 2009, the State Police in Pennsylvania wrote to Hinds, advising him of the 1988 warrant and telling Hinds to fire Felciano immediately. But Hinds didnt' fire Feliciano.
Interestingly, it is Hinds' cell phone that may prove to be a key piece of evidence for the State. After the killing, investigators found Hinds' phone in a garbage can near Feliciano's home. When Feliciano tore the phone in half, it caused it to dial several of HInds' contacts, hitting off of cell towers in the area and helping lead investigators to Felciano.
In my opinion it is risky for the defense attorney to describe his client as a "reasonable person" to the jury. People could be incredulous over such a description, turning against Felciano and the attorney in the process. The lawyer had better be able to show exactly how a "reasonable" person could become so angry as to kill another human being.